The Mini is the name of a small car produced from 1959 to 2000, and the name of a newer one known as New MINI launched in 2001.
The original Mini (1959-2000) was a revolutionary and character small car designed for the British Motor Corporation (BMC) by Alec Issigonis (later Sir) (1906-1988) and made in Birmingham.
The car used a conventional four-cylinder water-cooled engine but mounted transversely and driving the front wheels. This innovation allowed much increased passenger space in a small body. The result was nimble, economical and inexpensive. Almost all small cars built since the 1970s have followed this mechanical layout. Another innovation was the use of exterior welded seams, which permitted the car to be built more cheaply using manual labour. Less successful was the unusual suspension system, which used rubber cones instead of conventional shock absorbers, leading to a rather raw and bumpy ride.
Designed as project ADO15 (ADO indicating Austin Design Office), the Mini was originally called both the Austin Seven (also known as Se7en) and Morris Mini Minor, but later Mini became a brand in its own right.
The car owed some of its success to its "classlessness", it was designed for the masses, yet members of the Beatles and even HM Queen Elizabeth II owned one.
Between 1961 and 1969 there was also a version of the Mini produced with a more substantial boot (trunk). This was badged as both the Wolseley Hornet (reviving a sports car name from the 1930s) and the Riley Elf. The Mini itself could be bought in a variety of body styles: the standard two-door; two versions of estate-car (or station-wagon) with double "barn-door" style rear doors, the Traveller (all metal) and the Countryman (a "woodie" version of the Traveller but with wooden exterior trim similar to that available on the Morris Minor - this "half-timbered" styling is something uniquely, and, according to some, bizarrely, British) and two commercial derivatives; the van (as the estate-car but without side-windows) and the pick-up.
The 1960s saw the heyday of the car, with well-publicised purchases by movie and music stars, Mini Cooper victories in rallies, a starring role in a major film (The Italian Job), spin-off models including commercial vehicles, an estate, and the jeep-like Mini Moke. Sales were strong, but the car never made much money for its makers. Indeed, it is thought that due to an accounting error the car had been incorrectly priced originally and each sale made a loss for the company.
Issigonis tried to replace the Mini with an experimental model called the 9X. It was shorter and more powerful than the Mini, but due to politicking inside British Leyland, which had been formed from the merger of BMC and Standard-Triumph, the car was not built. It was an intriguing "might-have-been", as the car was so advanced it was still competitive by the 1980s.
During the 1970s, under the ownership of British Leyland, the Mini was given a more modern, squarer looking face-lift. The restyled version was called the Mini Clubman, and also spawned a Mini Cooper replacement called the 1275 GT, but the classic 1960s design remained available and survived the Clubman design.
The Mini was also built in Italy by Leyland affiliate Innocenti, and was sold alongside other British Leyland products in Europe. Innocenti made its own version of the Mini Cooper, the Innocenti Cooper.
In the late 1970s Innocenti introduced the Innocenti 90 and 120 a Bertone-designed hatchback based on Mini platform. The Bertone redesigned Mini was available in a Mini Cooper equivalent christened the Innocenti de Tomaso.
Reports of the Mini's imminent demise surfaced again in 1980 with the launch of the Austin Mini Metro (badging showed the word 'Mini' in all lowercase), but the Mini survived even the Metro.
In 1981 in New Zealand, the Mini had another major starring role, in a "road trip" movie directed by Geoff Murphy called Goodbye Pork Pie. By this time, however, the Mini was beginning to fall out of favour in many of its export markets. South African, Australian and New Zealand production all stopped around this time. In New Zealand, assembly switched to the Honda City.
Through the 1980s, the British market enjoyed numerous "special editions" of the Mini, which shifted the car from a mass-market item into a fashionable icon. It was this image that perhaps helped the Mini become such an asset for BMW, which later bought the remnants of BMC as the Rover Group. It was even more popular in Japan, where it was seen as a retro-cool icon, and inspired many imitators at major Japanese automakers. There was also a Mini Cooper revival, with the uprated metro "A+" version of the 1.3 L engine fitted in to the car. The engine was also fitted with modern electronic fuel injection - first single-point, then on the final models, a multi-point system.
Production of the original Mini outlasted its major competitors—the VW Beetle (at least in Europe), the Citroën 2CV and the Metro, its intended replacement—running until October 2000 with a total of 5.3 million cars.
In 1994 under Bernd Pischetsrieder, a nephew of Issigonis, BMW took control of the Rover Group, which included the Mini, and fitted an airbag to comply with European legislation. By 2000, Rover was still suffering massive losses and BMW decided to dispose of most of the company: MG and Rover went to Phoenix, a new British consortium; Land Rover went to Ford. BMW kept the Mini brand name and now sells a completely new Mini, technically unrelated to the old car, which the Rover subsidiary had almost finished developing.